Get the facts about a widely misunderstood part of the female anatomy.
All we know is that they are. At birth, the doughnut-shaped membrane is prominent and thick, but that changes pretty rapidly.
2. Hymenal tissue is usually worn away by adolescence.
During the early years, the membrane thins and widens as a result of athletics, self-exploration, cleansing and even activities as simple as walking. A little of the tissue may remain around the opening of the vagina, but that's usually it. Which means…
3. Pain experienced by some women during their first time having intercourse isn't because the hymen is breaking.
That urban legend you've most likely heard about? It was actually a big ol' myth. Most of the membrane is already worn away when a woman finally has intercourse, and plays little to no role in discomfort.
Many girls believe their initial sexual experience is inevitably unpleasant because that is what they've been told, so it is. It makes sense when you think about it. When we think something will hurt, we feel anxious and tense which ultimately gives way to pain.
4. Those "bloody sheets" aren't because the hymen is tearing, either.
Most young partners are not experienced love-makers. Those first times are usually less skilled and sensual, and more trial and error. Hurried, a poorly lubricated vagina or rough sex can cause sensitive vaginal tissue to bleed, but not hymenal tissue to break.
5. Intact hymenal membrane doesn't cover the whole vaginal opening.
If it did, girls who still had bits of the hymen left at puberty could not menstruate properly.
6. About 1 in 200 women have an "imperforate" hymen.
That means around 0.5 percent of hymens don't wear away normally and have openings too small for tampons or erections to comfortably enter the vagina. These days, those cases require a fairly simple surgery to snip away some of the membrane. Hooray for modern medicine, right?
7. Historically, people have gone to great lengths to prove that the hymen broke after marriage.
In old cultures, families expected newlyweds to hand over bloody sheets after the wedding night to confirm that the hymen had ripped, make sure the woman was a virgin and check that the two had consummated the union. A little nosy, don't you think? Many brides didn't even risk it, they would simply cut the inside of their thighs with a sharp fingernail to soil the sheets — just in case.
All that fuss for centuries over a totally wrong idea?! Sigh. We're glad the myth has finally been put to rest.